Will Free Agents Bite on Qualfying Offers?

Monday was the deadline for Major League franchises to extend one-year qualifying offers to their impending free agents. Several players received offers. Which free agents will take the offers? We take a look.

Monday was the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to their impending free agents. This season, the qualifying offer was set at one-year, $15.3 million. Players who received a qualifying offer will have until next Monday to accept or decline the offer. Teams who make a qualifying offer to a free agent who turns down that offer and signs with another team will receive draft pick compensation for that player. Below is a list of the players who were extended qualifying offers on Monday, as well as a few notable players who were not given the qualifying offer. Players not given a qualifying offer can still negotiate with their current team.

Under the new qualifying offer rule, no player has accepted the offer, but that could change this off-season. Last year, free agents Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew didn’t accept their qualifying offers and they remained on the free agent market past spring training and into the start of the regular season. Both had down seasons and are re-entering the free agency market with much weaker free agency negotiating positions than they had last year. Given the experiences of Morales and Drew, a few of the players on the qualifying offer list may elect to take the money and try their hand at free agency again in a year.

Below is the complete list of players extended the qualifying offer, as well as a few notable free agents to be who weren’t made qualifying offers.

Players Given Qualifying Offers

Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers: One of the top starting pitchers on the free agent market this off-season, Scherzer will most certainly decline this offer. Any team that has the money necessary to sign Scherzer won’t mind giving up the pick to bring him into the fold.

James Shields, Kansas City Royals: The same can certainly be said for Shields, who along with Scherzer and Jon Lester will be the prize free agent starters this winter. Shields shouldn’t have any trouble finding a multi-year deal worth more per season than this offer for one year.

Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers: Ramirez may have to indicate a willingness to move positions to maximize his free agency opportunities, but that shouldn’t stop him from declining the qualifying offer. Injuries limited Ramirez some in 2014, but he was still very productive in his 128 games played. His offense would still be above-average at third base, and the Dodgers or another team are likely to offer a long-term deal worth more per year than the qualifying offer.

Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays: Two years removed from his suspension for steroids, a clean Cabrera has proven that the numbers he put up in 2012 were not all related to performance-enhancers. Cabrera hit .301/.351/.458 for Toronto in 2014 and should have a strong market even with the draft pick attached.

Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles: Like Cabrera, Cruz had to deal with the stigma of a PED suspension during his last foray into free agency. Signed to a bargain deal, Cruz paid off big time for Baltimore in 2014, leading the AL in homeruns. The Orioles would like to bring him back and he figures to decline the offer and test the market or re-sign with Baltimore to a long-term deal.

Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates: Catchers don’t often age well, but Martin has been an exception. He had an 832 OPS for the Pirates this past season and he is an exceptional defensive player. The Pirates would love to have him back, but they aren’t likely to get him back on a one-year deal. He should test the market and is likely to have plenty of interest.

Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates: Before Monday, the Pirates had never extended a qualifying offer, but they made two this time around with Martin and Liriano both receiving the offers. Unlike with Martin, there is a decent chance that Liriano takes the offer. Liriano has had two very strong seasons in a row for Pittsburgh, but he will be 31 next season and he has a long injury history. With Shields, Lester and Scherzer also on the market, Liriano may not receive an offer worth more than $15.3 million per year on the open market. The Pirates would likely be happy to have Liriano back on the short-term deal.

Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies: Like Liriano, Cuddyer is a candidate to accept the qualifying offer. The outfielder will be 36 next season and he appeared in just 49 games this year due to injury. He was effective in those 49 games, but those numbers were inflated by the fact he played his home games at Coors Field. At this stage in his career, Cuddyer is an injury risk and a liability in the field. Without a draft pick attached to him, Cuddyer likely would have received a few two- or three-year offers, but with the pick attached, that is less likely. Given that scenario, Cuddyer will probably take the one-year deal with hopes of entering next off-season as a free agent coming off of a healthy year.

Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves: For a second straight year, Santana was extended a qualifying offer that is likely to impact his free agency outlook. It took Santana until March to sign a deal with Atlanta because interest in his services dipped when the Kansas City Royals made him a qualifying offer that he turned down. Given that experience and the crowded starting pitching free agency market, Santana may find that the $15.3 million offer is too good to refuse.

David Robertson, New York Yankees: The Yankees extended an offer to their closer Robertson and he is likely either to take the offer or remain with the Yankees on a long-term deal. Even in an inflated free agent market, $15.3 million for one season is a lot for a closer, so Robertson should be strongly tempted to take that deal. If the Yankees offer a longer-term deal at a little less than $15.3 million, he may take that, as well. Either way, the extension of the qualifying offer makes it a strong possibility that Robertson remains in pinstripes next year.

Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers: One of the best stories of the 2014 season was the resurgence of Martinez, who had to overcome a serious injury that cost him all of the 2012 season and cut into his effectiveness in 2013. Martinez led the AL in OBP and OPS in 2014 and struck-out just 42 times in 641 plate appearances. He isn’t an option to catch and is a last resort option at first base, but his bat will be more than enough enticement for a team to offer him a lucrative multi-year deal despite the draft pick being attached to him.

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants: Like Martinez, there is very little chance that post-season hero Sandoval accepts his qualifying offer. Although Sandoval had a tumultuous regular season, he was a star during the post-season and is still one of the most valuable third basemen in baseball on both sides of the ball. Sandoval isn’t likely to take the qualifying offer, but he is still a decent bet to stay with the Giants, who rarely let their high-profile free agents leave.

Notable Players Not Given Qualifying Offers

Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees: Kuroda will be 40 years old next season, but if he decides to pitch in the US in 2015, Kuroda should have plenty of suitors, including the Yankees themselves. He isn’t likely to command more than a one-year deal or a one-year plus an option deal.

Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles: Markakis has reportedly been negotiating an extension with the Orioles, who declined the outfielder’s $17.5 million offer earlier this week and then declined to give him a qualifying offer. Markakis has been a favorite of Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos since he was drafted and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to Baltimore on a multi-year deal.

Jed Lowrie, Oakland A’s: In a year where there aren’t any marquee shortstops on the free agent market, Lowrie will be one of the top targets, especially now that he doesn’t have a draft pick attached to him. He has a long injury history and is coming off of a down year, plus there are questions about his defense. However, he is an above-average offensive player for his position and he had a strong 2013 season, so he is likely to get a multi-year deal somewhere.

Michael Morse, San Francisco Giants: Morse recovered from a disastrous 2013 campaign to hit well for the Giants in 2014 (811 OPS in 131 games). He is a liability defensively, but both AL and NL teams looking for right-handed power should be in play for Morse. An AL team might be the best fit, as he’d be best suited as a DH.

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